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Horizontal photo of single male sparrow with nice gray and brown feathers. Bird sits on the branch of small peach tree in the garden with few spring leaves.

Do you have a favorite gospel hymn? (bonus points if it is based on TODAY’s gospel. 12th Sunday Ordinary Time A

Do you have a favorite gospel song?

In the spring of 1905, Civilla Martin and her husband were vacationing in upstate New York, when they met and struck up a friendship with a local couple, the Doolittles. Which might sound ordinary, except for the fact that Mrs. Doolittle was bedridden for 20 years at that point, and Mr. Doolittle was crippled and had to propel himself to and from work in a wheelchair, in an era that was not nearly as handicapped friendly as ours is. You and I might imagine that this couple, facing such challenges, would be pessimistic and bitter, but the very opposite was true. Civilla Martin and her husband were drawn to the Doolittles because of their boundless energy and positive outlook on life. After some weeks, Civilla asked Mrs. Doolittle the source of her indomitable spirit. Mrs. Doolittle, who along with her husband, was a Christian, did not hesitate. “Because if God’s eye is on the sparrow, then I know he watches over me.” With that encounter and that phrase ringing in her memory, Civilla penned a famous hymn, a song still sung in countless churches across this land. [sing} “So I sing because I am happy. And I sing because I’m free. Yeah, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

I have known my share of “eye on the sparrow” people. One of the first was a woman named Joanie Hrubritz. Joanie was the facilitator for ‘Communications week’ during our Priestly Formation Program the summer between sophomore and junior year in College. Vibrant, alive, compassionate, eyes blazing, Joanie took a class full of not very emotionally verbal individuals and gave us the tools we very much needed to share our inner world and lives with each other. And like Mr. Doolittle, Joanie was confined to a wheelchair the entire time I knew her. Yet, what I remember most about her, is never the wheelchair. It was there, always, but you never noticed it – because you noticed her. You see, Joanie was one of those “Eye on the Sparrow” people. One of those men and women who learn to LEAN INTO LIFE, not because it is safe or just or fair or equal or will turn out ‘okay’ in the end. Eye on the Sparrow people know the deep truth that Jesus spoke of in the gospel –God’s eye is on the sparrow, and on them as well. And because of that, they’ll dare anything and choose everything and love without worrying about the cost. And I knew I wanted to become someone like a Joanie Hrubritz.

In this little ‘pep talk’ that Jesus is giving to his disciples as he is about to send them out on their first mission on their own, he prepares them to be “eye on the sparrow disciples”. “Fear no one.” (Their eyes get big as they realize what he is doing.) “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body.” (Their eyes get really wide at this point!) Fear the one who can destroy both body and soul. [Eyes are huge now…] Oh, by the way, don’t worry about that– your heavenly Father has got your back. His eye is upon the sparrow – and if it is on the sparrow, then it must be upon you. And because of that, you can do anything, endure everything and love this world out of it’s darkness into newness of life.
It won’t be without its cost. But if you are prepared for what the world will throw at you, then you’ll know God has your back – and it will be okay.

Paul says it in a different way: “The gift is not like the transgression.” Though sin and hate and misery exist in this world, they do not hold the last word. The grace of God and the gift of Jesus overflow into the entire world, charging it with God’s glory. Jeremiah, that strong willed, persecuted prophet, also comes to trust in the God who is with him “like a mighty champion.” Eye on the sparrow people indeed!

So, how do we become those kinds of people – like the Doolittles, like Joanie Hrubritz, like Paul and Jeremiah? I think it begins quite simply. It begins by cultivating a willingness to trust. It begins when we make a CHOICE to trust that God has his eye upon us. And then to say: This is my life Lord, and I love it just as it is. Not as I hope it might be or as it could have turned out, but just as it is. And I trust that because I believe you have made me exactly as you want me to be and are forming me daily to become exactly who you desire me to be.
And if it hard to believe those words, then, maybe the way to do that is to let the words of that song that Civilla Martin wrote wash over your heart – and do for you what it has done for countless Christians throughout the ages – set you on the path to being an Eye on the sparrow Christian.

[sung] I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free – yeah – For His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.

*for those who wish, my favorite version of this song (so far) can be found here:

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